Looking for an easy way to sew perfect circles, without marking or tracing? This is a great hack that I first learned from a book called The Creative Sewing Machine by Anne Coleman. It’s a lot of fun, and you might even find yourself looking for more ways to use circles in your designs after you try it!
It’s very easy to do. All you need is:
- A thumbtack (a lapel pin is even better)
- Some painter’s tape (it’s repositionable and won’t leave marks on your sewing machine or table)
- And possibly a stack of books, depending on how your sewing machine is sitting on your table.
The fabric you use should be relatively thick and sturdy. You can place it in an embroidery hoop or use stabilizer if you want to use this method on a wispy piece of fabric. I’m demonstrating with a piece of a men’s button-up twill shirt that I had left over from another project. It wasn’t stabilized (or even ironed… my sister tells me I should iron my scraps when I use them to demonstrate techniques, but usually I don’t because IT’S BORING.)
Place the thumbtack point-up on your table, directly to the left of the needle. (Don’t place the tack farther towards the front or back of the table. It should be straight to the left of the needle.)
The distance from the thumbtack to your needle should be half as wide as the circle you want to sew. The thumbtack will mark the center of your circle, and the needle is where the edge of the circle will be. So if you want a circle that’s 12″ across, then you should place the tack 6″ away from your needle. (That’s the radius, but I know math terms make some people panic, so you can just think of it as being half the width of your circle.)
Tape the thumbtack down to the top of your table and poke the fabric down over it, right where you want the center of your circle to be. You can add a pinback from a lapel pin or earring on top of the fabric, if you want to.
Place the fabric under your presser foot, and smooth it down. Lower the presser foot and start to sew. The fabric will turn itself in a circle as it advances through the machine. Keep an eye on the fabric and guide it to make sure it’s feeding evenly as it turns around in a circle, and make sure that it’s staying down firmly on the pin. Once you’ve sewn a full circle, fasten your thread and remove the fabric from the sewing machine.
I’m using my treadle machine to demonstrate, because it seemed like a fun way to drive myself crazy. I just got it set up and I’m still figuring out how to use it. (I’d been practicing on that same scrap of fabric for a few minutes to get the hang of it.) The treadle action takes some getting used to, but I love the way it runs.
If your sewing machine is not level with your tabletop, you will need to add a stack of books to your table in order to sew larger circles. Here, I’m demonstrating this on my vintage Kenmore sewing machine named Kenny.
Kenny is a great machine, but he’s free-arm capable, and doesn’t have hinges to be put inside a table. If you have a machine like that (or just don’t have a sewing machine table), you can still use this technique to sew circles! Add books to make a stack that’s the same height as the bed of your sewing machine, and hold them down with some strips of painter’s tape. Tape the tack down to the top book, and you’re good to go.
This is a tote bag I’m working on that has embroidered and appliqued circles. The base fabric is good old denim, and the appliqued circles are some toille scraps that I got from an upholstery shop. The scraps weren’t large enough to make a project with, but I thought they were beautiful, and deserved to be the center of attention!
If you want to applique in a circle, just place some fabric that you want to use for applique on top of your base fabric. Sew in a circle using a straight stitch, and then trim away the excess fabric on the outside of your stitching line. Make sure that you keep track of the center of the circle, or leave the fabric on the pin like I have in the picture. Now switch your machine over to a satin stitch (a dense, wide zigzag stitch), or any other stitch suitable for applique, and sew around the circle again. The zigzag will cover the raw edges of your circle and finish it off nicely.
I also added some circular outlines to the tote bag, just by using a zigzag stitch without the applique fabric on top. I went with a random design, adding circles wherever they looked good to me.
You can make concentric circles (circles within circles) by moving the pin closer or farther away from the needle, and piercing the fabric in the same spot each time you sew a new circle. Try using some of the decorative stitches on your sewing machine, or couching over some cording or yarn as you sew.
Some other uses for circles include sewing “frames” around embroidered art, making modern quilts or wall hangings, sewing applique, shadow applique, or reverse applique, stitching orange peel quilts, adding decorative embroidered circles to skirts and jackets, and making round throw pillows.
And take a look at this mock cathedral window quilt. It uses a very fun technique that’s easy but looks impressive when it’s finished. The lady who wrote the tutorial traces dinner plates to make her circles, but it would be a perfect place to use the tape-and-pin circular sewing technique. For a quilt like that, it doesn’t matter how large your circles are, as long as they’re all the same size.
So what projects can you dream up for sewn circles?